Hong Kong graduates could struggle to find work if university English and Chinese language requirements lowered, headhunters say
Recruiters respond to survey of 125 school principals, where three in five respondents supported lowering the basic language requirements for university admissions
Lowering the English and Chinese language requirements for entry into Hong Kong universities will make graduates less competitive in the jobs market, especially compared to international jobseekers, recruiters warned on Monday.
Lancy Chui Yuk-shan, a headhunter for the Greater China region, said many employers prefer hiring candidates with better language skills and jobseekers could use these to set themselves apart from others.
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The senior vice-president of Manpower Group said multinational companies, the banking industry and government were among those that valued language or “communication skills” the most.
Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of AMAC Human Resources Consultants, said her clients had already complained about the Chinese and English standards of recent graduates.
“The situation will be even worse if we were to lower the entry language requirements, as there is not much language training in universities,” she said.
“Graduates from Hong Kong universities have to compete with those studying in overseas universities who have better English and those from the mainland, who have better Mandarin.”
For example, Chow said some of her clients in the legal sector had grumbled about graduates struggling to draft documents. As Hong Kong’s pillar industries include finance, tourism and professional services, graduates must have good language skills to perform well in those jobs, she said.
The recruiters were responding to a survey of 125 school principals, conducted by the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools and released on Sunday, where three in five respondents supported lowering the basic Chinese and English language requirements for university admissions.
This would allow students who struggle with languages but excel in other subjects to still aim for a degree, an association spokeswoman said.
To enter university here, local students must get a minimum score of three in both Chinese and English and two in mathematics, liberal studies and one other elective for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam, which has a seven-level grading scale.
Professor Henry Wong Nai-ching, Chinese University’s emeritus professor of chemistry and a member of the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, said falling English standards were a result of how the language was taught in schools.
“If you require a score of three [for the DSE], students are just going to drill hard for the languages and have no time for other electives.
“And even if they have a score of three or four, their English is still clumsy,” he said.
Chui believed an exception could be made for students pursuing science courses.
“If one really excels in maths and has the skill set, language skills might not be that important.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to find someone who excels in both science and languages.”
But Professional Teachers’ Union president Fung Wai-wah believed a proper review was necessary before any adjustments were made to the language requirements.
A source who works at one of the city’s universities said the institutions already accept students who do not meet language requirements if they do exceptionally well in other subjects relevant to their chosen course.
A student who only wanted to give his surname, Liang, said he did not support lowering the language requirements as it would “lower the quality of students”, despite missing out on a university place because of the rule.
For his DSE exams in 2015, he scored four and above for all subjects, bagging top marks for liberal studies and close to top marks for Chinese. But he got a two for English and was forced to take a more expensive higher diploma in film production instead of getting into a publicly-funded degree course. He has now moved on to a private university degree in the same field.
Students will find out their DSE results on Wednesday, after which they can apply for tertiary education. The new university semester begins in September.